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Amish, Mennonite volunteers repair deaf camp

Austin Corona, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Volunteers from Mennonite and Amish organizations helped repair roofs on nine buildings at the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing between May 28-30. Photo by Katrina Toews

A group of Amish and Mennonite volunteers helped repair water-damaged roofs on nine buildings at the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing last week.

About 40 volunteers organized through the West Slope Mennonite Fellowship and an Amish organization called Restore Our Community Colorado gathered to perform the repairs from May 28-30. Most of the volunteers came from three Amish communities near Westcliffe, Colorado.

“It’s fun to see the Amish go to work because regardless of their age, they all pitch in,” said Aaron “Beuford” Aeschliman, a Carbondale resident and assistant chair for the Rocky Mountain unit of the Mennonite Disaster Service. “It’s fun to see how motivated and hard-working they are.”

Volunteers work on a roof at the Aspen Camp. Photo by Katrina Toews

Mennonite Disaster sponsored the work and organized the volunteer event in coordination with West Slope Mennonite Fellowship and Restore Our Community Colorado. Mennonite Disaster is a U.S. and Canadian nonprofit organization that helps rebuild communities after natural disasters.

“We pitched this (to Mennonite Disaster) as a disaster for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community,” Aeschliman said.

Volunteers of all ages pitch in to complete repairs at the Aspen Camp. Photo by Katrina Toews

Volunteers also assisted with fire mitigation work, painting and landscaping, Aeschliman said.

Mennonite Disaster has held three other volunteer workdays in the last two years to address facilities issues at the camp, according to Aeschliman. This project involved an in-kind donation from the West Slope Mennonite Fellowship roughly equaling $100,000, he said.

Aeschliman said the Amish communities had worked with them on projects on the Front Range in the past, and this project was a continuation of that relationship.

A volunteer clears out weeds at the Aspen Camp. Photo by Katrina Toews

The Amish communities involved in the work could not be reached for comment.

The camp, which reopened in 2021 after a three-year closure, saw its facilities deteriorate from water damage and neglect under previous leadership in the last 10 years, according to current camp staff. Deterioration caused the camp to close one of its buildings, which housed the camp’s office, staff break room, and game room. The camp has operated its office out of its main building in the meantime.

The camp closed temporarily after facing steep financial struggles leading up to 2018. With a new board and new staff members, the organization has been working to revitalize itself in the last three years since its reopening.

The camp, located in Old Snowmass, provides outdoor and recreational experiences for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, often children. It was founded in 1967.

Volunteers pose for a picture while enjoying an evening together after working on repairs at the Aspen Camp. Photo by Katrina Toews

Aspen Camp Program Coordinator Damien Spillane said there is still a “long way” to go before the camp is fully restored, but that last week’s repairs make a big difference.

“I am very excited for campers to come, knowing that the place is safe and sound,” Spillane said in an interview.

Spillane said he was hired in April to help revive the camp and rebuild its relationship with local communities. He said his conversations with community members and organizations have been productive so far.

“It’s a slow process,” Spillane said.

This summer, Spillane said he is planning around five or six programs for campers, including a week-long program for 35 visitors from the New Mexico School for the Deaf who will arrive this weekend.

In the long run, Spillane said he hopes to obtain a child-care license from the state so the camp can take kids for outdoor activities without supervision from parents or other outside adults. Spillane said the camp had permits at one point but lost them under previous leadership.

Courtesy of the Aspen Daily News